Children are like smart phones. Always listening, and then giving notifications at unexpected times. When you surround your children with love and laughter, and give them a safe space to express themselves, the results can be very special. They are heart warming, thoughtful and, sometimes, downright hilarious! Read on, then share your stories in the comments!
They are precocious, kind, confident, and over flowing with energy. In Sunday school, they know the answers before the questions are finished. They run across the fellowship hall calling to their friends that there is a grownup who will supervise them all on the playground. Then they all burst through the big door at full speed and leap on the equipment. They are the delight of our congregation.
At our church, we have many children like this. Looking at them, they represent the beautiful variety of skin tones, hair color, and personalities in our community. But, they have one important commonality: they have all been carefully taught to love Jesus, love people, and then tell everyone what they know about Him.
One of my responsibilities at our church is to play the piano for the traditional worship service. So I sit behind the big piano hiding in a safe little corner. Until the magic moment when our children's director invites the children up to the altar area for a brief intro to their own worship time in a separate space. This moment is there only to bring joy. I stand up behind the piano and kneel on the bench so that I can see the whole scene. The children are eager to begin showing off what they know. I can't wait to see.
Questions are asked, and responses are given. Sometimes one of the responses actually corresponds to a question. But not often. The children speak out about Jesus, how He wants us to be kind and good, and how they have experienced His love. They accompany their words with large arm gestures and wide eyed wonder. It is a cacophony of happiness, security, and absolute faith. They have no doubt that God has them in the palm of His hand.
The adults of this congregation are completely in love with our children and youth. We all know that without their energy and innovation we are dead. Not dying, already dead. Children and youth are included in every area of our faith community. They are not shunted off to one side until they are old enough to be tolerable. They are loved and wanted exactly as they are today. Children are valuable as children; not because they will one day be adults.
Very often, from the lips of our young ones, we get a statement that is a true gem. This past week, I heard the story of one liner delivered by one of our youngsters. Once I stopped laughing, I was inspired to share it with you all.
Mom driving a mini van teasing her child in the back seat: "Who gave you permission to be so cute?"
Adorable child in the back seat: (with no hesitation) "It is part of God's plan for my life. God has a plan for everyone."
Child: "You don't want to mess with God's plan do you?"
Mom: Laughing too hard to respond adequately, "Absolutely not. You have permission to be cute."
So here is my point: children are completely open to the love and faith that is found in a community that values them. Children embrace their faith across all areas of their lives when they are supported in this way. Adults may pigeon hole their faith, stuffing it into the box marked Sunday and not looking at it on any other day, but not a faith led child. They see Jesus everywhere they go and in everyone they meet.
How can a church congregation develop a generation of children who have this kind of joy and freedom to worship? Intentionally. How can parents develop this in their own children? The same way. Intentionally. This climate exists only when someone, or several someones, decided that it should be so. Then they set out to make it so. Intentionally.
If your family or congregation could do better in the area of developing joyful faith in children, here are a few thoughts on what it will take to get there:
Notice the children. I know that this may peg the obvious meter, but you'd be surprised how many families and congregations only notice and engage the children when necessary. I have seen time and again children being overlooked, ignored. and even resented in churches and families. It is important to keep the children front and center in the eyes, ears, and hearts of the adults. Children should be taught appropriate behavior, but the adults must be taught to give children grace in this area. Keep the children visible. Put their art on the wall, have them sing for the main worship service. If you have a creative video person, interview the children and show clips on the video screen. So much fun!
Teach the children. Children are sponges and can learn much more than most adults realize. They are fresh from God's Hand and so they are able to understand that faith fills a hole in each of our spirits. We are spirit beings as well as human beings, and children grasp this easily. Offer lessons that are a little more challenging than you may think they are capable of comprehending. Let them surprise you. Teach them up. Set the bar high. Give them deep concepts to chew on. Strengthen them.
Greet the children. If you have to put the children in a receiving line to get the adults of your congregation to speak to them, then do it. Fortunately, in our faith community, the majority of the adults speak to and greet the children and teens. It is a friendly group (in fact, the church's name is Friendship) and we don't have to manipulate the adults to affirm the children. If your church needs help with this, and I have served churches that do, shine a bright light on the children by working them into the worship or other fellowship times. Do skits, songs, dances, art shows, etc. frequently. Help the children shine so that the adults can not miss them. Create an atmosphere in which the children are the main reason for being there. Because they are.
I have said this a hundred times, and I'll say it a hundred more: in our families and in our churches, it doesn't matter what we do well if we raise our children and youth poorly. They are the main reason. Children's needs supersede the traditions and desires of adults. In a church setting, if there are no faith filled children, we are simply entertaining ourselves until we die.
If you have a great, faith based story about a kid like Hendrix, share it in the comment section. I'd love to read it and share it with the other readers.